Beyond the Company Line: Studying Workplace Inequalities Ethnographically, Research in the Sociology of Work
While scholars have demonstrated persistent gaps in hiring, performance evaluations, and compensation decisions by gender, race, social class, sexual orientation, disability status, and other status characteristics, many of the mechanisms driving these effects remain less clear. Qualitative research, including ethnographic methods, is uniquely poised to fill this gap because it can illuminate how workplace inequalities are produced and reproduced on the ground. But studying workplace ethnographically also poses unique methodological challenges and considerations. In this essay, I outline common issues researchers face, including gaining access, moving beyond official narratives of organizational practice (“the company line”), and managing the emotional and psychological burden of witnessing biased or illegitimate behavior. I also discuss potential strategies for navigating these challenges.
Rivera, Lauren. 2023. Beyond the Company Line: Studying Workplace Inequalities Ethnographically. Research in the Sociology of Work.